Alston Dreams Big, Shares Pain

Dreams_framed_01202015Gary L. Alston.  2011. Dreams—Poems and Short Stores.  Xlibris:  United States.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Pastors love to illustrate their points by telling stories.  Stories communicate—we remember stories—because stories define who we are and why.  We all tell stories[1].

Earlier this month I attended an interesting presentation on non-fiction, Christian narrative[2]. Author Catherine Claire Larson defines non-fiction, Christian narrative as: a story of a sequence of actions that occur when a sympathetic character encounters a complicating situation that he/she confronts and solves[3].

Sitting next to me during this presentation was author Gary L. Alston. Alston lives in Riverdale, Maryland where I grew up and attended high school.  We had an immediate connection. Before the evening was over we had traded books.

Gary’s title, Dreams—Poems and Short Stores, describes his book’s content and structure.  After dedicating the book to his mother, wife, and friends that encouraged him, there is a foreword by Adrienne Felton. Then, Gary provides a series of poem (13-44), a section of personal photographs (44-53), and a series of short-stories.

Gary’s writing is highly personal recording his personal experiences—many quite painful—and maintaining a keen eye to the human condition.  Although Gary is African American (and I am not), I found my own experiences among his poems and stories growing up in Washington DC.  In reading along, Gary’s first love is obviously poetry because even his short stories have a poetic character, if not meter.

A personal favorite is his story:  I’ll Be Seeing You (55-57).  In this story with three moves, he starts out by describing eye glasses:  “They come in many colors and shapes” (55). He then describes his first encounter where he noticed glasses—on a young woman in the third grade:  Etta Mae (55).  His final and most lengthy move describes a glasses-wearing cousin, Fred, whose nickname, Puddin, was unappreciated and required a scuffle with bullies to prove his mettle (55-57). Fred’s coming of age story took me back to my youth in an unexpected turn of events.

None of us control the world that we live in, but we control our response to it.  Do we respond to tragedy with God’s grace and dignity or do we melt before the refiner’s fire[4] and become embittered?  Gary’s response has been to welcome us into his world where grace and dignity are lived out.


[1]John Savage makes this point in his book: Listening & Caring Skills:  A Guide for Groups and Leaders (

[2]Billy Graham’s writing and preaching make extensive use of non-fiction, Christian narrative (

[3] Catherine Claire Larson–Author, Reporter, Feature Writer, Script Writer, Monday, January 12, 2015: “Stories of Reality: Finding and Telling the True Stories That Matter” (

[4]“Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap.  He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the LORD. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of old and as in former years. (Mal 3:1-4 ESV)

Alston Dreams Big, Shares Pain

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